Revving Up The Honda (Classic)

Camilo Villegas will defend his 2010 title this week at The Honda Classic / Photo: PGA Tour
Camilo Villegas will defend his 2010 title this week at The Honda Classic / Photo: PGA Tour

In the newest era of professional golf, the one where Tiger Woods has failed to be a factor, The Honda Classic lines up to be yet another event where another player will assert themselves in his absence and make a mark on the 2011 PGA Tour.

A bevy of top players, including five of the top ten players in the world, are on hand in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida this week to test their mettle of what can be a very punishing Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa.

2010 winner Camilo Villegas blitzed the field (or at least runner-up Anthony Kim) by five strokes in capturing his third PGA Tour title last year.  He hopes to become only the second person to defend his title in this event that originated as the Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic in 1972.  That sole successful defender?  None other than the man himself, Jack Nicklaus, who turned the feat in 1977-1978.

Villegas became the 5th international player to claim The Honda Classic title in the last six times the event has been played.  The only American winner in that stretch? Mark Wilson in 2007 – the same Mark Wilson who is already a two-time winner on tour in 2011.

With a field strengthened by the fact that the World Golf Championships – CA Championship will be played down the road at TPC Doral next week logic says that once again an International player could come out on top.

It would be hard to deny Luke Donald as the odds-on favorite.  The Englishman required just 73 holes on his way to the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play Championship title just a few days ago.  Add that to his win at The Honda Classic in 2006 (albeit on a different course – The Country Club at Mirasol) and you have to think he is ready to deal with the “the Bear Trap”, the legendary 15th, 16th, and 17th holes at the Champion Course that have derailed a dream or two in their day.

Donald, Wilson, and Villegas will be among twelve past champions of The Honda Classic teeing it up this week.  They will be joined by Y.E. Yang (2009), Ernie Els (2008), Justin Leonard (2003), Matt Kuchar (2002), Jesper Parnevik (2001), Vijay Singh (1999), Mark Calcavecchia (1998, 1987), Stuart Appleby (19970, Tim Herron (1996), and Nick Price (1994).

Overall there are 22 of the top 50 players from the Official World Golf Rankings in the field (including World #2 Lee Westwood who tied for 9th last year) so expect a high-powered showdown come Sunday.

Of course those players will have a fine stage for their drama as PGA National is highly regarded, and not just for the trio of holes that makes up the Bear Trap.

The par 70 layout demands the best of the players with wind always seeming to be a big factor in play.  Last year the 36-hole cut came at a whopping three over par with Villegas’ 267 total actually being the lowest aggregate score for the event in the four years it has been at PGA National – by four strokes.

The outlook is for fairly strong winds on Thursday and Friday, in the 20-30 MPH range, so look to see those striking the ball solidly to climb to the top quickly.  That will settle a bit over the weekend but if you have to make some Fantasy Pool bets, look to the players known for keeping the ball in play as a good selection.

There is a reason International players excel at The Honda Classic; they seem much more comfortable in the wind so don’t expect their winning streak to go away any time soon.

2011 Honda Classic

Dates: February 28-March 6, 2011

Where: PGA National Resort & Spa, Champion Course; Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Par/Yards: 35-35—70/7,158

Field: 144

Format: 72-hole stroke play

Defending Champion: Camilo Villegas

Purse: $5,700,000; Winner’s Share: $1,026,000

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